Debbie Harry by Andy Warhol
How can it be that we haven’t yet covered Blondie on this blog? What a tragic oversight! One that I must redress immediately…
I absolutely loved Blondie when I was a kid, after discovering them on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert when I would have been about ten. I recall being transfixed by how beautiful Debbie Harry was and thinking how cool she dressed. I had never seen a girl who looked like this before… and I was quite impressed. Debbie Harry made a strong impression on my young mind that a keen and idiosyncratic fashion sense most probably signaled a female creature of high intelligence (nearly, but not always, true). I was a fan from that moment on, believe me when I tell you…
The first Blondie song I heard on that day was In The Sun. I danced and pogoed around my grandparent’s living room in my socks, sliding on the floor as I did so. Watch the clip below. It was an exhilarating thing to see something like this back then. I was a kid very attuned to rock music—the way most ten-year-olds today are into SpongeBob SquarePants—and Blondie was a real sit up and pay attention change of pace from Foghat, Uriah Heap and REO Speedwagon, the groups normally seen on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.
Completely aside from the insanely sassy gorgeousness of Debbie Harry, Blondie really stood apart musically from everything else that was going on at the time. Their songs were catchy, upbeat and fun. Despite their CBGBs pedigree, they really were never punks. There was a knowing calculation behind their persona, a campy, cabaret vision of ‘60s girl groups and Farfisa-infused garage pop.
For my money, the greatest artistic statement made by the band is 1980’s Autoamerican, an album reviewed poorly when it came out and that has never really been properly re-evaluated by either critics or audiences.
Autoamerican has aged very, very well. It doesn’t sound like anything else other than Blondie and so is a bit timeless in that sense. The opening track, Europa, a brooding modernist instrumental that dissolves into a spoken word rant from Harry extolling the virtues of cars. It’s an amazing song and a cool way to open the collection. The album contains both The Tide is High (originally a late ‘60s rocksteady hit in Jamaica for the Paragons and U-Roy—I bow to their genetic coolness for knowing about this song then) and Rapture, the song that, more than any other piece of music introduced the world to the concept of what rap music was. It’s a masterpiece of pop. I listened to it three times today—quite loud—and the skill, charm and verbal dexterity with which Debbie Harry casually rattles off her dada-hipster rhymes still astonishes 30 years later. It’s got a groove as funky as one written by James Brown, Prince or George Clinton, a feat almost no other white group can lay claim to.
My favorite moment on Autoamerican is T-Birds, a soaring piece of road music featuring angelic backing vocals courtesy of Flo and Eddie. If you’ve never heard Autoamerican before—and you call yourself a music fan—get your hands on it and give it a chance. Truly Autoamerican is one of the great lost albums of the New Wave era.
Bonus clip: Blondie do a cover of Goldfinger on German television’s Musikladen show: in 1977: